Dear Library Directors

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

We appreciate your feedback, positive and negative. As we move into 2009, even as you grapple with budget challenges, keep in mind that these Five Things We Just Can’t Ignore in Libraries require moxie more than money.

Privacy: We really need to rethink our privacy concerns, offer varying levels of opt-in, and educate our users about a networked world in which our life streams are saved through social networks and servers in the “cloud.” We believe the default should be privacy, but if patrons want to share, we should let them.

Rethink your library privacy settings, as well. Is the “No Photography” rule really for your users’ privacy (beyond minors), or is it a loss of control to see pictures of your facilities and signage on Flickr? Cameras are everywhere today, including in phones. Sharing images might just bring nonusers and potential funders your way-or serve as a wake-up call. Imagine how useful Jenny Levine’s photo tour of DOK Library in Delft, Holland, is to librarians and LIS students who might never get to visit.

We thank those who gave us tours of their libraries this past year and were tickled to have the photos stored online.

The Environment: Saving money is important but so is saving resources. As you plan your new buildings and new services, how can you lessen the impact on the planet? We’re happy to see new buildings, like the Darien Library, CT, open with green certification, limiting energy use in a larger structure.

Even little things can help. Do your libraries have bicycle and skateboard racks? Can you create ride-sharing programs for staff? Can staff grab a quick shower if they bike or walk to work? Telecommuting should be considered for jobs not tied to public service desks.

As librarians lose their conference travel budgets as well, we urge meeting planners to offer opportunities for learning and exchange locally or online. Also, when was the last time you met with library people in your area for a luncheon “round table” or facility tour?

The Nature of Information: As people find information “on the fly” or “just in time,” how can we still play a role? We’re excited to see new ways libraries are offering reference: texting, Meebo, and outreach to places like Panera Bread. It’s not time to stop those innovations. Could your reference staffers be doing their jobs in other channels? In other spaces?

We were impressed by Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH, and others that have changed imposing reference desks to friendlier stations where staff and users stand beside one another. The reference interview these days should be all about collaboration and context.

But remember the role of privacy. Consider private reference interview areas, much like hospital admissions cubicles, where patrons can quietly and confidentially seek information. Online channels like Meebo also provide a low-cost way to answer sensitive questions from library users online.

Generation C: Our spaces, policies, and service offerings must reflect that young people grow up to be creators. Let them create along with you. In order to do this they must work in groups, and groups are not usually “shhhh” quiet. Can you designate both quiet space and collaboration environments?

Create multiple channels to engage your users. Have your staff-and you, too-explore the possibilities of social networking tools. Many libraries are creating thriving communities via sites like Ning or sharing spaces via wiki software. Mine the biblioblogosphere for useful “how to do it” posts and examples from all types of libraries. And get involved yourself. You don’t have to understand all the tech to use it and see what returns it might bring to your library.
Telling Our Story Well: Tough economic times can spell disaster for library funding, even as use skyrockets. Make sure you tell your story well in various channels. It’s no excuse to say, “We don’t have any money to do that” when the examples here highlight ways to engage users and funders with simple, open tools.

Make sure you sell your successes to your board, dean, mayor, commissioners, faculty, local press, chamber of commerce, and student body. Perhaps an electronic annual report (isn’t paper old-fashioned, expensive, and wasteful?) could be sent to the key players in your community, highlighted with library user photos from Flickr or Facebook.

We know you have a tough job. We thank you for your attention and request that you keep the feedback coming.


Georgia Tech Tour

Jenny Levine on DOK

Panera Bread Librarian

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

February 15, 2009 Library Journal